By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Jan 13, 2014 11:28 AM
The six weeks between New Year's Day and the All-Star break are an interesting time across the league. It's the stretch where teams really start to feel the grind of the season, traveling through frigid cities in their third month without much time off. You'll see some bad teams let go of the rope (not point any fingers here ... yet) and some good teams lose games they're not supposed to (OK, here I'm pointing at the Heat).
As usual though, there are a handful of teams trying to grab or hold onto the final couple of playoff spots in the West. And this year, we have some teams in the East who are trying to recover from ugly starts. Both of those groups can take advantage of those that are feeling the grind ... as long as they're not feeling it themselves.
The Chicago Bulls (5-0) are the only unbeaten team in 2014, but the Brooklyn Nets (5-1), New York Knicks (5-1) and Denver Nuggets (5-1) also have lifted themselves out of holes they had dug in December. The San Antonio Spurs (4-1), meanwhile, might see an opportunity to take advantage of the injuries (see OKC and the Clippers) and slippage (see Portland) of the other top contenders in the West, even though they're a little banged up themselves. Or maybe they're just really, really good.
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• This time last year: East playoff picture gets interesting - The Nets were 6-0 in January and the Lakers were 1-6. Avery Bradley, Grant Hill and John Wall all played their first game of the season, and Iman Shumpert was getting set to return for the Knicks.
• Plus-minus Stud: DeAndre Jordan (LAC) was a plus-83 in three games last week.
• Plus-minus Dud: Tobias Harris (ORL) was a minus-82 in four games last week.
• Hero Team of the Week: San Antonio (3-0) -- Six teams went unbeaten last week. The Spurs had the toughest schedule of the six, knocking off the Grizzlies, Mavs and Wolves.
• Zero Team of the Week: Philadelphia (0-4) -- The Sixers lost three home games by double-figures (one by 31 points) and also got waxed in Cleveland.
• High jumps of the week: Sacramento (+6), Cleveland, Denver, San Antonio (+4)
• Free falls of the week: New Orleans (-6), Charlotte, L.A. Lakers, Phoenix, Washington (-4)
• East vs. West: The West is 130-64 (.670) against the East in inter-conference games and was 15-7 last week (8-0 against Boston and Orlando).
• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Utah, 2. New Orleans, 3. Toronto
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Miami, 2. Chicago, 3. Atlanta
Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
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Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank) - Click here
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank) - Click here
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank) - Click here
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank) - Click here
The league is averaging 96.5 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 102.7 points scored per 100 possessions.
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NBA.com's Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man's opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via twitter.
|1|| San Antonio (29-8) |
Pace: 97.1 (12), OffRtg: 107.9 (3), DefRtg: 98.8 (5), NetRtg: +9.0 (1)
The Spurs blew a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead on Tuesday, but won in OT, have the best point differential (and No. 1 offense) since the day after Christmas, and have been fine defensively without Tiago Splitter. They'll pay for it in February, but they're in the midst of a stretch where they're playing 13 of 16 games at home. Friday is their first meeting with the Blazers since the first week of the season.
This week: @ NOP, vs. UTA, vs. POR, vs. MIL
|Last week: 5|
|2|| Golden State (25-14) |
Pace: 99.0 (4), OffRtg: 103.5 (13), DefRtg: 98.5 (4), NetRtg: +4.9 (8)
The Warriors were clearly out of gas at the end of their seven-game trip, but managed to go down to the wire before losing to the improved Nets on Wednesday and then survive (thanks to Stephen Curry's game-winner) their first game back home Friday against the Celtics. Now they can recharge for a 12-day stretch that includes games against the red-hot Nuggets, the Thunder, Pacers, Wolves and Blazers.
This week: vs. DEN, @ OKC, @ NOP
|Last week: 2|
|3|| Indiana (29-7) |
Pace: 95.0 (23), OffRtg: 101.5 (20), DefRtg: 92.6 (1), NetRtg: +8.9 (2)
Remember the beginning of last season, when the Pacers were the best defensive team and worst offensive team in the league? That's kind of the way it is now, with Indy having scored just 94.0 points per 100 possessions over their last seven games. Paul George has shot just 9-for-43 (21 percent) from 3-point range in that stretch. They cranked up the defense to beat the Raps and Wiz last week.
This week: vs. SAC, vs. NYK, vs. LAC
|Last week: 3|
|4|| Miami (27-10) |
Pace: 94.8 (24), OffRtg: 109.3 (2), DefRtg: 101.9 (10), NetRtg: +7.5 (4)
The Heat are now 0-5 against American teams in the Atlantic Division (they're 3-0 against the Raptors). Injuries have been a factor, but so has this team's tendency to coast through quarters and halves, especially defensively. They've allowed 103.9 points per 100 possessions with LeBron James on the floor this season, a mark which would rank 18th in the league and hurts his DPOY campaign.
This week: @ WAS, @ PHI, @ CHA
|Last week: 1|
|5|| Oklahoma City (28-9) |
Pace: 98.8 (5), OffRtg: 106.4 (6), DefRtg: 98.2 (3), NetRtg: +8.2 (3)
Two road losses (a bad defensive game in Utah and an anemic offensive night in Denver) dropped the Thunder out of first place. And after visiting the improved Grizzlies on Tuesday, they play four of their next five games against fellow West playoff teams. Kevin Durant has averaged 34.2 points in the nine games since Russell Westbrook's surgery, though his 3-point shooting has suffered.
This week: @ MEM, @ HOU, vs. GSW, vs. SAC
|Last week: 4|
|6|| Portland (28-9) |
Pace: 97.6 (10), OffRtg: 110.3 (1), DefRtg: 105.0 (23), NetRtg: +5.3 (6)
C.J. McCollum looked comfortable in his first two games, but it remains to be seen if he's just replacing Dorell Wright's minutes or if the Blazers' starters might see a decrease in theirs. Four of the five rank in the top 26 in minutes played. After they host the Cavs on Wednesday, they visit the Spurs, Mavs, Rockets and Thunder. They're 4-2 against those teams, but five of the games have been at home.
This week: vs. CLE, @ SAS, @ DAL
|Last week: 6|
|7|| L.A. Clippers (26-13) |
Pace: 98.3 (7), OffRtg: 106.5 (5), DefRtg: 100.1 (7), NetRtg: +6.4 (5)
With three starters - Darren Collison, Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin - averaging at least five dimes per game, the Clips have assisted on a greater percentage of their buckets in the four games since Chris Paul's injury (66 percent) than they did before (62 percent). They took care of business at home against three bad teams last week, but have another seven-game trip after hosting Dallas on Wednesday.
This week: vs. DAL, @ NYK, @ IND
|Last week: 8|
|8|| Toronto (18-17) |
Pace: 95.1 (21), OffRtg: 102.7 (16), DefRtg: 99.6 (6), NetRtg: +3.1 (9)
The Raptors had played, by far, the toughest schedule in the East, so they shouldn't feel any guilt about taking advantage of the gassed Nets on Drake Night to get back over .500 and improve their division record to 6-1. And they shouldn't have a problem with playing three of the coldest teams in the league this week. The Bucks, Celtics and Lakers are a combined 3-25 since Dec. 23.
This week: vs. MIL, @ BOS, vs. MIN, vs. LAL
|Last week: 9|
|9|| Houston (24-14) |
Pace: 98.0 (8), OffRtg: 107.4 (4), DefRtg: 102.4 (13), NetRtg: +5.0 (7)
Since a 2-for-9 stinker in Oklahoma City on Dec. 29, James Harden has averaged 32.6 points on 51 percent shooting over the last five games. He gets another shot at the Thunder on Thursday, but it will be the second night of a back-to-back again. Harden's 3-point percentage has dipped, even though a greater percentage of his threes have come off the catch (57 percent) than they did last season (42 percent).
This week: @ BOS, @ NOP, vs. OKC, vs. MIL
|Last week: 10|
|10|| Dallas (22-16) |
Pace: 96.9 (14), OffRtg: 106.1 (7), DefRtg: 104.4 (19), NetRtg: +1.6 (13)
For the second time in two weeks, the Mavs got away with a last-second foul that wasn't called. Kevin Love and Austin Rivers would have had to make all their free throws just to send either of the two games into overtime, but those results will obviously be on the minds of the Wolves, Pelicans or any other teams involved if the final playoff spot in the West comes down to a game or two.
This week: vs. ORL, @ LAC, @ PHX, vs. POR
|Last week: 11|
|11|| Phoenix (21-15) |
Pace: 97.9 (9), OffRtg: 105.3 (9), DefRtg: 102.3 (12), NetRtg: +3.0 (10)
The Suns say that Eric Bledsoe could be back this season, but they're now 5-7 (much worse defensively) without him. Eight of those 12 games have been on the road though, so their five-game homestand, which begins Wednesday and includes games against the Mavs and Nuggets, could tell us whether they're still a playoff team. Leandro Barbosa has shot 6-for-22 in his first three games.
This week: @ NYK, vs. LAL, vs. DAL, vs. DEN
|Last week: 7|
|12|| Denver (19-17) |
Pace: 98.7 (6), OffRtg: 104.3 (11), DefRtg: 102.2 (11), NetRtg: +2.0 (12)
Apparently, the Nuggets are good again. They've followed their eight-game losing streak with five straight wins by an average of 19 points. Behind Randy Foye's hot shooting, their offense has taken off, scoring 118.7 points per 100 possessions during the streak. Sunday's visit to Phoenix is a chance to take advantage of the Bledsoe-less Suns, who they trail by just two games in the loss column.
This week: @ UTA, @ GSW, vs. CLE, @ PHX
|Last week: 16|
|13|| Atlanta (20-18) |
Pace: 96.9 (15), OffRtg: 103.4 (14), DefRtg: 101.8 (9), NetRtg: +1.5 (14)
Al Horford's injury has transformed the anonymous Mike Scott from a fringe rotation guy to a consistent contributor off the Hawks' bench. Scott has averaged 12.0 points on 49 percent shooting in the nine games since Horford went down and had 29 in wins over the Pacers and Rockets last week, continuously beating Houston down the floor to help the Hawks erase an 11-0 deficit on Friday.
This week: vs. BKN (London)
|Last week: 12|
|14|| Minnesota (18-19) |
Pace: 100.2 (2), OffRtg: 105.2 (10), DefRtg: 102.5 (14), NetRtg: +2.7 (11)
Last week brought another loss by four points or less (in a game they led by six with less than two minutes to go), two more losses in attempts to get back over .500 and some inevitable tension in the locker room. So the Wolves are 0-10 and 0-9 in those situations respectively and haven't won three straight since their streak to start the season. Friday's visit to Toronto is the next referendum game.
This week: vs. SAC, @ TOR, vs. UTA
|Last week: 13|
|15|| Memphis (17-19) |
Pace: 92.5 (30), OffRtg: 103.1 (15), DefRtg: 105.2 (24), NetRtg: -2.1 (18)
Dave Joerger was billed as a defensive coach, but he's somehow brought out the best in the Grizzlies' offense. Over the last 10 games, the Grizz have scored 110.6 points per 100 possessions, which is 3.7 more than they scored in any 10-game stretch over the previous two seasons. And that's without their offensive anchor. Mike Conley has been hot and Courtney Lee has provided a boost.
This week: vs. OKC, @ MIL, vs. SAC
|Last week: 17|
|16|| Chicago (17-18) |
Pace: 93.1 (28), OffRtg: 96.8 (29), DefRtg: 97.4 (2), NetRtg: -0.6 (15)
Joakim Noah is pushing on and the Bulls are surviving without Luol Deng, having won five straight and eight of their last 10 to climb back within a game of .500. They even cracked 100 points against the Bobcats on Saturday. Nine different Bulls - including Cartier Martin the day after he was signed - have scored in double figures in at least one of their three games since the Deng trade.
This week: vs. WAS, @ ORL, @ WAS, vs. PHI
|Last week: 18|
|17|| Brooklyn (15-22) |
Pace: 93.6 (27), OffRtg: 101.9 (18), DefRtg: 105.6 (26), NetRtg: -3.7 (22)
Even after running out of gas in Toronto on Saturday, the improved Nets defense has allowed less than a point per possession through six games in January. If they can get Deron Williams back healthy, they could be solid on both ends of the floor and keep climbing the standings. After a trip to London and a game in Manhattan, they play eight of their next 11 at home, where they've won five straight.
This week: @ ATL (London)
|Last week: 20|
|18|| New York (14-22) |
Pace: 92.5 (29), OffRtg: 102.2 (17), DefRtg: 104.9 (22), NetRtg: -2.7 (20)
The Knicks beat the Heat without J.R. Smith and then beat the Sixers with his help. Amar'e Stoudemire totaled 35 points (on 15-for-22 shooting) and 16 rebounds in the two games and the Knicks scored 86 points in just 32 minutes with him and Carmelo Anthony on the floor together. If Smith stays disciplined and Raymond Felton stays healthy, this could a very good offensive team again.
This week: vs. PHX, @ CHA, @ IND, vs. LAC
|Last week: 21|
|19|| Washington (16-19) |
Pace: 95.3 (19), OffRtg: 100.5 (21), DefRtg: 103.1 (15), NetRtg: -2.6 (19)
The good news is that the Wiz have won six of their last eight on the road, scoring 104.5 points per 100 possessions, and already have more road wins (nine) than they did last season (seven). The bad news is that they've lost seven of their last eight at home, scoring just 97.2. With two five-game homestands coming before the All-Star break, it would be a nice time to turn that latter trend around.
This week: @ CHI, vs. MIA, vs. CHI, vs. DET
|Last week: 15|
|20|| New Orleans (15-21) |
Pace: 95.2 (20), OffRtg: 105.5 (8), DefRtg: 107.1 (29), NetRtg: -1.6 (16)
Ryan Anderson (herniated disc) is out indefinitely, Jrue Holiday (stress fracture) is out indefinitely, and Tyreke Evans (sprained ankle) is also banged up. That's all bad news for the offense of the team that's had the league's worst defense over the last month. The Pelicans have lost five straight, with Saturday's missed call in Dallas adding insult to the injuries and with three tough games coming this week.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. HOU, vs. GSW
|Last week: 14|
|21|| Sacramento (13-22) |
Pace: 97.0 (13), OffRtg: 104.2 (12), DefRtg: 105.8 (27), NetRtg: -1.6 (17)
Thanks to a three-game winning streak, the Kings are 7-8 with Rudy Gay and much improved offensively. So is he, with an effective field-goal percentage of 55.0 percent as a King, up from 42.1 percent in 18 games with the Raptors. They've played nine more home games than road games (no other team has a differential of more than six) and start making up for it with a six-game trip that starts Tuesday.
This week: @ IND, @ MIN, @ MEM, @ OKC
|Last week: 27|
|22|| Detroit (16-22) |
Pace: 97.1 (11), OffRtg: 101.6 (19), DefRtg: 104.8 (21), NetRtg: -3.2 (21)
Josh Smith's week began with him shooting a 17-footer that only went 14 feet with the game on the line in New York. It ended with him taking the ball to the basket for the game-winner against the Suns. Thanks to 52 fast break points, 45 offensive rebounds, and 38 second chance points, the Pistons have won two straight to regain their footing. They're the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the league.
This week: vs. UTA, @ WAS
|Last week: 22|
|23|| Charlotte (15-23) |
Pace: 95.0 (22), OffRtg: 97.0 (28), DefRtg: 101.1 (8), NetRtg: -4.1 (23)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is expected to play Tuesday, and his return can't come soon enough. The Bobcats ranked third defensively until they were missing both MKG and Jeffery Taylor. Since Taylor was lost for the season, they've ranked 29th defensively, going 3-9 and falling out of playoff position. Tuesday's opponent is the team behind them in the standings, with the league's second-leading scorer.
This week: vs. NYK, @ PHI, @ ORL, vs. MIA
|Last week: 19|
|24|| Cleveland (13-24) |
Pace: 96.0 (17), OffRtg: 97.2 (27), DefRtg: 103.3 (16), NetRtg: -6.1 (27)
Luol Deng got his first real taste of Cleveland sports with a head-shaking, 44-point defeat in Sacramento on Sunday. Deng is obviously a huge upgrade over the combination of Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee, and the Cavs are still just two games out of a playoff spot, but there's a lot to be fixed with this team and it will take all of Deng's leadership ability to get guys buying in, especially on defense.
This week: @ LAL, @ POR, @ DEN
|Last week: 28|
|25|| Utah (12-26) |
Pace: 93.7 (26), OffRtg: 98.7 (24), DefRtg: 108.0 (30), NetRtg: -9.3 (30)
On Tuesday, the Jazz played one of their best offensive games of the season and got their best win, beating the Thunder by double-digits, with Gordon Hayward racking up 37 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. But Hayward was out with a left hip flexor injury when they played one of their worst defensive games of the season against the Cavs on Friday. The ups and downs of a young team.
This week: vs. DEN, @ SAS, @ DET, @ MIN
|Last week: 26|
|26|| Boston (13-25) |
Pace: 95.9 (18), OffRtg: 99.1 (23), DefRtg: 103.5 (17), NetRtg: -4.4 (24)
Which Boston big man had a worse week: Jared Sullinger, who picked up three flagrant fouls and lost his starting job, or Kris Humphries, who got dunked on by Blake Griffin and got caught trying to defend Stephen Curry on a game-winner? They both actually had productive nights at Golden State, but not productive enough to stop the Celtics' losing streak, which has reached eight games.
This week: vs. HOU, vs. TOR, vs. LAL, @ ORL
|Last week: 23|
|27|| Philadelphia (12-25) |
Pace: 102.4 (1), OffRtg: 98.1 (25), DefRtg: 106.2 (28), NetRtg: -8.1 (28)
If a team (like the Blazers and Nets last month) or individual (like C.J. Miles on Tuesday) wants to set a franchise record for 3-pointers, either has a good shot against the Sixers. No lineup (minimum 100 minutes) had been worse at defending the arc than the Sixers' starters with Hollis Thompson at the two, so Brett Brown went back to James Anderson after Miles went off for 10 threes.
This week: vs. CHA, vs. MIA, @ CHI
|Last week: 25|
|28|| L.A. Lakers (14-23) |
Pace: 99.6 (3), OffRtg: 100.0 (22), DefRtg: 105.3 (25), NetRtg: -5.4 (25)
Pau Gasol and Kendall Marshall continue to play well, but that's not nearly enough for the Lakers, who have lost 10 of their last 11 games after getting smoked by the CP3-less Clippers on Friday. Since going at LeBron James on Christmas, Nick Young has shot 9-for-46 (that's less than 20 percent) from 3-point range. With no relief in sight, the Buss family can book their first trip to the Lottery in nine years.
This week: vs. CLE, @ PHX, @ BOS, @ TOR
|Last week: 24|
|29|| Orlando (10-27) |
Pace: 96.5 (16), OffRtg: 98.0 (26), DefRtg: 103.5 (18), NetRtg: -5.6 (26)
The Magic have lost seven straight (the last five by at least 16 points) overall and 13 straight against the Western Conference. They're also 0-9 without Nikola Vucevic, who suffered a concussion in Monday's loss to the Clippers. Victor Oladipo, back in the starting lineup, has averaged 16.0 points in his last five games, and oh boy, he got Damian Lillard at the apex on Wednesday.
This week: @ DAL, vs. CHI, vs. CHA, vs. BOS
|Last week: 29|
|30|| Milwaukee (7-29) |
Pace: 93.8 (25), OffRtg: 95.6 (30), DefRtg: 104.6 (20), NetRtg: -8.9 (29)
The Bucks have lost five straight and, with another flagrant foul, Larry Sanders' reputation continues to go south. But as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo is doing stuff like this and this, there's some hope. He's seven years older, but fellow rookie Miroslav Raduljica has also produced in limited minutes. And hey, Ersan Ilyasova is finally making threes (two in each of the last three games) again.
This week: @ TOR, vs. MEM, @ HOU, @ SAS
|Last week: 30|
|Top 10: March 15|
Countdown the top ten plays from Saturday's action in the NBA.
|Daily Zap: March 15|
Check out the best of NBA action from Saturday night bundled in the Daily Zap.
|George Pushes Pacers Past Pistons In Overtime|
Pacers vs. Pistons: Paul George scores 30 points with Evan Turner adding 20 points as the Pacers top the Pistons in overtime 112-104.
|Dunk of the Night: Derrick Williams|
Derrick Williams drives baseline and throws down a big two-handed jam over Taj Gibson.
|Play of the Day: Jonas Jerebko|
Rodney Stuckey drives and misses the layup and Jonas Jerebko rises up and flushes the putback follow over Paul George.